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The Best Sports Anime of All Time
Facebook via Yuri on Ice

Drama, action, personal intrigue; for decades sports anime has been delivering stellar and memorable series. Be it baseball, soccer, tennis or (most recently) ice skating, the stout-hearted protagonists of this age-old genre never fail to disappoint.

Sports anime are grounded stories. They’re powerful, often underdog stories. They focus on individuals or teams within a particular competitive environment and follow them through thick and thin, victory and defeat, success and disappointment. It’s not uncommon for a sports anime to focus on high school students and teams a lot of the time – blending the lines between sports, slice of life, and personal drama. At other times, however, sports anime go all the way to the top. To the Olympics. To the world championships.

Here are five of the best sports anime of all time, in no particular order.

1. Prince of Tennis

Echizen Ryoma is a tennis child prodigy. Despite his young age, he’s already won numerous tournaments and trophies – in every sense, he’s a master of the sport. And yet, Ryoma’s never been able to defeat his own father in a match. Enrolled at Seishun Gakuen, a school known for its stellar tennis players, Ryoma does his best to grow stronger, to be a better teammate, and to overcome any and all obstacles along the way on his path to become the best.

2. Yuri on Ice

A recent anime sensation, Yuri on Ice is, well, it’s exactly what it says on the tin.

Twenty-three-year-old Japanese figure skater Yuri Katsuki is down and out on his luck. After a streak of recent losses, most notably a Grand Prix final, Yuri returns to his home town Hasetsu to rest and recuperate. Strange events unfold, as they usually do in anime, and Yuri soon finds himself under the care and coaching of figure skating champion, Viktor. The two set their sights on the next Grand Prix in Barcelona.

With its queer undertones (that is to say, overtones obscured on screen), dramatic twists and beautiful choreography, it’s no wonder Yuri on Ice has been and continues to be so popular. It’s spurred on a rise in popularity for the actual sport of figure skating around the world. At the 2018 Winter Olympics, Team Japan even performed a routine from the show live.

3. Big Windup!

Mihashi Ren lost any and all confidence in his baseball ability during middle school. He’s abandoned the sport since, deciding instead to focus on the other parts of his life. But his highschool is in desperate need of a new pitcher, and Ren might just be the only man for the job. Big Windup! starts off as a slice of life high school anime, transforms itself into a baseball anime, and then goes frankly wild.

Baseball anime are some of the most common within the genre. The sport itself is huge in Japan, as detailed by Japan Guide, with millions of fans watching, enjoying and placing bets and wagers on every match. What Big Windup! does best is make baseball a personal, individual’s story.

4. Uma Musume Pretty Derby

A thirteen episode adaptation, Uma Musume Pretty Derby follows the trials and tribulations of Special Week, a girl with big, big dreams. On her first day in Tokyo Special Week attends a horse race and sees Silence Suzuka win – from then on, she becomes determined to be the ‘best horse girl in Japan.’

Horse racing is renowned all around the world for its popularity and intensity. Millions watch, place bets and cheer around the race at every big event. The horse racing betting industry is one of the biggest in the world, with websites like Oddschecker detailing the best odds for each and every event. Uma Musume Pretty Derby cashes in on this popularity and boy does it do it well. Short, sweet and entertaining.

5. Yowamushi Pedal

Sakamichi Onada is a quiet shut-in. Above all, he loves anime – so much so that Onada cycles to and from anime capital Akihabara on a regular basis from his home. The long and jarring ride has unexpected side effects for him, however. He becomes a real talent behind the handle bars, with strong legs and stamina. Onada joins his high school bike racing team as a result and is set on course for competition.

Sports anime are wonderfully diverse. They come in all shapes and sizes (see 600+ on MyAnimeList) – and that might just be what makes the genre so popular. The above are some of the best so far, but with new series coming out each year, they might not last long!

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